Let's talk: Roasting and Types of Roasts.
One common misconception we hear a lot is that dark roast coffees have a higher caffeine content. We’re here to tell you, it’s not. Light roast coffee actually has the highest caffeine content! In this blog post we’ll break down some basics on roasting and the different roast levels. Let’s get started!
Time to get toasty, and roasty.
If you’re not working in a coffee shop, chances are you probably know next to nothing about the actual process your precious beans go through. Coffee roasting can be traced all the way back to the Ottoman Empire and Greater Persia. I guess even they needed a morning jolt!
In their time, coffee wasn’t as technical as it’s grown to be today. In the 15th century they used metal or porcelain pans that were thin and circular. Since these pans were small (think frying pan size) they could only fit a little bit of coffee at a time. To roast the beans, they would hold the pot over a container of hot coals called a brazier and stir the coffee with a small slender spoon until the coffee was roasted. Today, there are some individuals who use similar methods to roast at home! From baking beans, to frying them in a kettle over an open flame people will try anything to get a freshly roasted cup! However, if you want a quality roast, we recommend leaving the coffee roasting to the experienced professionals. In fact, until the 1900s people mainly roasted in their homes! Specialty coffee houses began opening in the 50s and rose in popularity throughout the times to what we have today!
The way the coffee industry has transformed is often spoken about in waves. First-wave coffee being all about convenience and quick accessibility with little regard for quality, flavor, or origin. Here we saw the rise of store-bought coffee giants and vacuum sealed packaging.
Second-wave coffee was all about trendy quick cups. Here we saw the formation of coffee being social and people wanting more from their cup of coffee than just convenience. During the second-wave consumers began to care about the quality and taste of the coffee a little more. With the increased sociability of drinking coffee came a widespread increase of coffee shops springing up as well as more coffee-based recipes. This transformed the world of coffee from something only adults could enjoy, to something almost everyone could enjoy.
The third-wave is where we’re currently situated and in this wave consumers began to focus on quality, process, flavor notes, and origin. If you’ve ever looked at a bag of coffee and wondered how in the heck the roaster tasted tomato bisque or figs in the coffee it’s because roasting became a sort of art-form and started to mirror how wine was purchased. Paying close attention to the region where the coffee comes from, the plant type (arabica, Robusta), flavor notes, and process roasters and consumers began having a more refined palette for coffee.
This wave is where micro-roasters, skilled baristas, fair-trade coffee, and increased sustainability practices all came into focus. This is the reason companies like ours, and the roasters we feature can thrive. Consumers like you, are demanding a better cup of coffee and we’re excited to keep bringing quality coffee and more variety to the table!
Coffee roasting isn’t for the faint of heart. Roasters have to make split-second decisions on timing to ensure the batch of coffee is perfectly roasted. The difference between your perfect cup and a ruined batch is seconds. This is why roasters spend years perfecting the art and science behind roasting, so they are able to read the beans and make the right calls. So, next time you’re drinking a cup of coffee from one of our roasters, give a mental high-five to the people roasting that delicious cup!
So now that we have a little history under our belts, let’s talk roast profiles.
There are four major roast profiles coffee can fall under: light, medium, medium-dark, and dark roasts. In between each of those roasts fall: cinnamon, high, city, full city, French, and Italian roasts.
Light roasts look just the way they sound, lighter in color! Because light roasts are roasted for a shorter period of time, they will not have an oily surface. During the time these coffees are being roasted they experience what’s called the “first-crack” meaning they expand/pop in size. This happens at around 300-350 degrees. Light roasts also have the highest caffeine content due to them roasting for less time. With light roasts the origin flavors are retained better than any other roast and tend to have more pronounced fruity and acidic tastes. When a coffee has an acidic taste, roasters refer to it as being “bright.”
Medium roasts are a little darker in color with a non-oily surface. They tend to have more body than light roasts, are slightly sweeter than their light roast counterpart, and have a more balanced flavor/aroma. Medium roasts start after the first crack and end right before the second crack. One of the most common medium roasts is the Breakfast blend.
Medium-Dark roasts begin showing a little oil on their surface and are darker. Close in color to milk chocolate. These roasts tend to have a bittersweet aftertaste with a heavy body. These roasts start right in the middle of the second crack which happens at around 437-450°F. Think Full City roast or Vienna Roast.
Dark roasts are dark with substantially decreased caffeine content. If you get the jitters from coffee this would be your best bet before switching over to a decaf option! These beans have the color of a deep rich dark chocolate and can sometimes even appear to look black. When looking at these beans you will notice they have a sheen of oil on them. With these roasts the roasting process takes over the flavor profile to deliver bitter, smoky, almost burnt aftertaste. Dark roasts begin right at the end of the second crack at around 465-480°F. Think French roast, espresso roast, and New Orleans roasts.
While we’re at it let’s talk decaf.
To much surprise, decaf does contain a small amount of caffeine content and is made from the same beans as regular coffee. *gasp* That’s right, there isn’t some magic coffee plant producing decaf coffee beans out there. This comes back to your amazing roasters using various processes to remove 95% of the caffeine content which is the industry standard to labeling coffee as “decaf.” Before roasters knew it was unsafe, many used chemicals like Benzene to pull the caffeine out of coffee. Thankfully, the Swiss created the “Swiss water process” for removing caffeine - making decaf coffee using this method a lot safer and healthier. This method uses water and osmosis to remove the caffeine from the coffee. There are a few other methods like methylene dichloride or ethyl acetate, supercritical CO2, used to extract caffeine. All these methods are implemented before the roasting process begins.
The other key consideration when purchasing decaf is to check to see if it’s actually even coffee. Some coffees may be a blend of chicory root or even be completely chicory root. Chicory root when dried and ground tastes very comparable to coffee and is caffeine free. No one wants to be tricked when they purchase something, so double check that what you’re getting is actually decaffeinated coffee and not a blend of coffee/ chicory root.